Weekend Athlete in Squaresville

A box is a handy thing to carry stuff in, and I’m all about carrying things in the car. The very square Nissan Cube and Kia Soul were recently on hand at the Chicago auto show, so it made sense for me to check them out after hearing so much about them from my coworkers.

Serving as a baseline for comparison is the Scion xB, because it was one of the first boxy little cars out there and it’s closer in size to the Soul and Cube than, say, the Honda Element.

The Cube toed the line first, and it stumbled out of the gate.

It’s tiny and has a swing-out rear door. I can live with that first thing, but the rear door is ridiculous, as it requires more space to open out in the wild. I mean, this thing was practically made to squeeze into tight parking spots on the street, but unfortunately that door is going to make it harder to load the Cube from the rear once you secure a spot.

The seat folding was easy, but requires you to tug on a loop of fabric in the seatback. That’s not good or bad, just different. The cargo floor after the seats are folded isn’t level, which isn’t a big deal for me. In fact, in something this small chances are I’d pile stuff into the well behind the seats. That, in effect, is a level load floor, just a small one. Of course, if you want a true level load floor, you’ve been warned.

One thing I really liked was the idea of the “invisible” rear pillar. When you get inside you can see that, of course, there is a rear pillar there, but it’s cool as a styling touch. Someday, when they can make a strong roof without that pillar, I’m gonna be a happy guy. The visibility you’d gain would be huge and welcome.

Still, the Cube is so small I could see it being extremely difficult to get my bike into … I know, buy a rack – but not so fast, Mr. Rack Salesperson. The Cube doesn’t make that so easy. For starters, there’s the swing-out door that would be an issue with a rear rack, and the Cube stands pretty tall. A roof rack wouldn’t be an issue for me, but I believe shorter athletes would have real issues getting anything up onto one.

Overall, the Cube is one of those cars I’d like to take to a half-marathon or something. I know it can carry my running shoes, it’d be easy to park and it’s the type of car that would draw a crowd. But if I were heading to the woods or a bike race, Nissan’s Rogue or Versa would be the one I’d pick for my team before the Cube.

The Kia Soul, on the other hand, looks like it wants a tryout for my squad. It’s larger and has a hatchback, so it’s at least read the playbook and knows one thing I like.

The seats flop over easily with a traditional top-of-the-rear-seat arrangement. There’s a flat cargo area that, again, isn’t a huge deal, but it is kind of nice. The cargo area also seems to be of decent width, which isn’t always the case in small cars.

The Soul I sat in on the show floor had a sunroof, yet headroom was just fine. That’s a welcome treat.

As is the case with the Cube, though, the Soul stands pretty tall. If you’re a rack lover who’s much shorter than 6 feet, take a look at the Soul’s height before assuming you’d want to throw things on top of it.

In a two-way faceoff, the Soul is the hands-down winner. In a way I kind of expected that, because I don’t think Nissan is really aiming the Cube at me (again, that’s why it has the Versa and Rogue). But the Soul has promise, and I look forward to testing it.

And that’s the thing: The reason I do these tests is because some cars look tiny on the outside but actually carry a ton. Such is the case with the xB – it’s not super huge on the outside, but it carries my toys really well.

With that as the baseline, the Cube looks the part with its square profile, but I can’t see it measuring up to the xB. The Soul, on the other hand, might be able to take the xB’s spot in the lineup. I’ll have to get my hands on one to know for sure.

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